COTA bus, sllver bus with red white and blue curvy stripe on side driving in dusk

On May 1st COTA overhauled its transit system by increasing routes and connections, including to more jobs, such as at Rickenbacker on the far southeast side, which has an estimated 21,000 warehouse-related positions.

But more routes and increased frequency for those without their own transportation to an expanding Central Ohio and to more jobs apparently wasn’t the only improvement in mind for the transit authority. COTA also boosted the number of routes and frequencies to a place fueling an increasing addictive form of entertainment in our community – gambling.

COTA has two lines going to Rickenbacker, but four lines going to Hollywood Casino on the west side. Keep in mind there are jobs at Hollywood, but the majority of people taking these lines are going there to gamble.

What’s more, the four lines to Hollywood travel through some of Columbus’s poorest neighborhoods where the last thing these people need is a place where they lose what little money they have.

The lines to Hollywood are the No. 5, which goes through the south side, downtown, and up 5th Avenue. The No. 6 travels through Linden and down Cleveland Avenue and eventually up Sullivant Avenue. There’s also the No. 10, which goes up and down East and West Broad. And the No. 21, which was added May 1st, services the Bethel Road area and winds its way through Hilliard. It should be noted these are high frequency lines that stop at major Columbus destinations before reaching Hollywood, while the Rickenbacker lines are specifically focused to get people to warehouse jobs there.

As for Rickenbacker after May 1st, and since 2014, the weekly trips increased from 90 to 243, according to COTA. But as for Hollywood, COTA now makes over 1,000 weekly trips, this also according to COTA. Thus our public transit authority makes four times as many trips to a casino than a destination with 21,000 jobs. 

COTA spokesperson Lisa Myers says while there is a wide gap in service to Rickenbacker and Hollywood, the casino is on Broad Street, one of the cities’s most heavily traversed arteries. She added that COTA and Hollywood did not collaborate on any agreement to have so many lines end up there.

Derek Longmeier is the Executive Director for Problem Gambling Network for Ohio, a non-profit with his office in Columbus. Longmeier says if COTA has the intent of appeasing Hollywood by running so many buses there then the transit authority should be raising awareness about problem gambling, as well.

“Hopefully on those lines going to Hollywood there’s going to be some additional education going with that about what responsible gambling looks like and those who ride these lines have the means to go to the casino and participate in a risk free way,” he said.

But COTA told the Free Press they have no gambling addiction awareness on these buses.

“We do not currently run any advertising or messaging related to gambling addiction on our buses,” says Myers.

When Hollywood and Scioto Downs opened in 2012 it brought casinos to Central Ohio’s backyard. Longmeier says national data shows when a casino first opens, gambling addiction soon doubles within a 50-mile radius from the venue.

Not surprising, Ohio is spending more and more to prevent and treat gambling addiction. For fiscal year 2015, the state spent $5.8 million to fight gambling problems, which is up from $4.5 million the previous year. This money comes from a two percent share of taxes paid by the state’s casinos.

“We are just now seeing the major consequences for having a casino in our community,” says Bruce Jones, a nationally-certified gambling counselor with Maryhaven, Central Ohio’s most comprehensive treatment center helping people and families deal with addiction and mental illness. “We’ve been increasing the number of people we see every year since we started this six or seven years ago. We now have Gamblers Anonymous meetings everyday of the week in Central Ohio.”

Perhaps the most insidious gambling option of the past twenty years is the video slot machine, which of course is (un)affectionately known as the “one armed bandit.” But today’s video slots, with their captivatingly hypnotic computer graphics and animation are different beasts altogether.

“They’re designed to draw you in like a moth to a flame,” says Jones. “It’s almost like crack they’re so addictive. They’re playing a game where you don’t have to think, and they start having a relationship with an inanimate object. And they’re hitting the button, hitting the button, hitting the button.”

With bus lines from across Central Ohio making stops at Hollywood, hopefully COTA will begin warning its riders that they can bet on any casino causing them to crash and burn.

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